Brooklyn Whiz Kids' Chef's Knife Is Blowing Up on Kickstarter
Josh Moses with the Misen chef's knife
Karen Tedesco for the Village Voice
A newly launched online kitchenware company, Misen — pronounced meez-en (as in mise en place) — sparked into being with an intent to create affordably priced, essential cooking tools "to get people back into the kitchen." It's the brainchild of Brooklyn-based co-founders Josh Moses and Omar Rada, along with Peter Müller, an industrial designer from Chicago. The trio of self-described avid home cooks, designers, and entrepreneurs launched a Kickstarter campaign on September 22 with a goal of raising $25,000 to finance the manufacture of their first product: a professional-quality eight-inch chef's knife.
With less than a week left to go in the campaign, the principals have surpassed that number beyond their wildest expectations. It took them all of one hour to reach the $25K mark, and as of this writing they have exceeded three-quarters of a million dollars, pre-selling more than 10,000 knives at $55 apiece (or two for $100). They plan to sell the knives at retail for $65.
Moses is a 24-year-old graduate of Brown University who started working for a food-and-beverage start-up soon after moving to New York. With two years' experience heading up its operations, he felt an itch for entrepreneurship, and when he met his future business partner Rada, the two quickly fell into sync with plans to "reinvent" the kitchenware market with a line of intelligently designed products made with high-quality materials, priced with the everyday consumer in mind.
When we caught up with Moses at an office-sharing space in DUMBO, he told the Voice that the seeds for a cookware brand were planted for Rada about five years ago. "He had this really nice stainless-steel pan, and somehow a friend lost this five-pound piece of metal," Moses says. He had a taste for quality kitchenware but found that replacement options were too expensive.
Fast-forwarding a couple of years, when companies like Warby Parker and Everlane had hit the ground running with direct-to-consumer business models, Rada met Müller at a kitchenware show in Chicago and they started talking about design. They came up with a plan to form a partnership, to find a manufacturer and sell directly to customers, thus eliminating traditional markups and opening the opportunity to offer great value. Later Rada returned to NYC, and just eighteen months ago the new company "bootstrapped" the cost of research and development for its first product, a chef's knife.
"We got interested in knives for a few reasons: An eight-inch knife is the single tool you'll use for literally everything," Moses explains. "And it's healthier, fresher, and more affordable to do your own cooking. It's the idea we want to promote for our brand."
They were able to combine a passion for hands-on craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology to execute the design process. "We took sketches and came up with a profile, then made 3-D prints of the knives. It's really cool and something we're really proud of," Moses says. "That was a huge part of the process for us, something that couldn't have been done ten years ago. Just being able to have Peter in Chicago come up with the design, have it printed in Brooklyn, and test it out, feel it out, send notes back."
Moses says their final iteration succeeds at fusing the best elements of Japanese and German knife engineering. "The classic German knife is thicker. It's heavier and has a wider belly, great for chopping through bones and stuff, while the Japanese are typically a thinner knife with a more shallow arc, preferable for fine slicing," he says "We really wanted to do a knife that would make it comfortable to do both of those things."
Chop chop: A Misen with the gray handle option
Courtesy of Misen
The resulting hybrid has a full-tang design with a plastic handle (available in black, blue, or gray) and a fifteen-degree edge (a "more acute, incredibly sharp cutting face") forged from premium Japanese high-carbon steel.
Müller and Rada visited more than a dozen factories in various countries to find a manufacturing partner. They spent four months sourcing different samples from them, eventually finding one in China's Guangdong province that was the right fit.
Then came the Kickstarter.
"We're totally humbled by the response of the campaign. We think it's a great knife, but there's no way we could have predicted such support from our backers," Moses says.
Key to their success was a glowing review from Serious Eats columnist and culinary director J. Kenji López-Alt.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to call it," López-Alt wrote. "This is the holy grail of inexpensive chef's knives. Incredible quality and design, high-end materials, perfect balance, and a razor-sharp edge."
Moses says he and his partners were ecstatic at the review, which runs to nearly 1,500 words and brims with praise like "$65 for a knife that can go head to head with my $180 Misono UX-10 or my $120 Wüsthof and come out the other end barely breaking a sweat."
Marvels Moses: "We were totally blown away by that. All we did was send him a knife."
López-Alt tells the Voice via phone, "I think it's really well designed, with that angled bolster, and the pinched grip is more comfortable. The handle is nice and heavy compared to what you'll find otherwise.
"It's nice steel that pretty much anyone not totally obsessed with knives will be happy with — but it's really about the value," López-Alt continues. "It's not the absolute best knife out there, but for $65 it's the best knife I've seen."
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